Keynote Address: Global NCAP, International Transport Forum and iRAP—Halving Road Deaths by 2020: Safe Systems and the journey towards zero—Australia's perspective



17 November 2015

Brasilia, Brazil

Good afternoon, your Royal Highness [Prince Michael, the Duke of Kent],—it is a privilege to have you as our guest of Honour, and welcome, everyone, to this afternoon's seminar.

My thanks to David Ward of the Global NCAP, Jose Viegas of the ITF and Rob McInerney of iRAP for convening this timely gathering.

I am pleased to present Australia's perspectives on issues of fundamental importance to all of us.

By way of introduction, I am the Australian Government's Minister responsible for Road Safety. I also assist the Deputy Prime Minister on infrastructure and regional development matters—and these matters have close connections to road safety.

I represent the regional electorate of the Riverina in the Australian Parliament, and have lived in that excellent rural area in south-east Australia all my life.

Both my regional background and my responsibilities within the Australian Government have helped shape my perspectives on road safety.

The need to make our roads safer is of course a national, and international problem, and it has complex urban and rural dimensions around the globe.

I understand very well that factors such as rapidly increasing vehicle ownership in large cities create major road safety issues—and increasing global urbanisation underlines the need to address these challenges.

And as a regional citizen, I am all too well aware of the particular difficulties involved in improving road safety outside of our major cities, and of the acutely concentrated impact of road accidents on smaller communities.

Some Australian statistics underline these difficulties.

Australia's road fatalities have reduced by 19 per cent over the course of our National Road Safety Strategy 2011–2020.

However, the reduction in road deaths was not shared evenly across all areas and all road user groups. Fatalities on remote roads fell by a much more modest 6.7 per cent.

I therefore understand the sense of urgency behind international efforts to improve road safety in regional areas.

We are now at the mid-point of the United Nations Decade of Action on Road Safety. This is a natural time for taking stock of how we are progressing in the Decade and to consider how to work towards the new target set as part of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, of halving road deaths and injuries by 2020.

Road safety is necessarily an area that is dominated by statistics, and other data. They include many that remain painful and, thankfully, many that are encouraging.

It is a very welcome development that the latest report from the International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD) shows that the number of road fatalities declined by 42 per cent between 2000 and 2013 in 32 countries.

And drawing on a wider range of countries data, the W-H-O's latest global status report found that the overall number of deaths had plateaued since 2007.

In the context of increases in population and motorization, this is a strong result and suggests that some of the interventions of the past few years are working well.

However, the enormous total number of deaths each year remains a stark reminder of the urgency of our collective global task.

The World Health Organisation [W-H-O] has calculated that 1.25 million people died as a result of road accidents in 2013—a staggering 90 per cent of them in low- and middle- income countries.

By comparison, malaria caused an estimated 584,000 deaths around the world in that year.

The W-H-O's findings just underline the critical need to continue and accelerate efforts cut road trauma—death and injuries on roads

This data sets a sober context for ‘Vision Zero’.

Among the matters David, Jose and Rob asked me to outline this afternoon, are Australia's views on how ‘Vision Zero’ can contribute to reducing death and injury on the world's roads.

I think that the ambition of ‘Vision Zero’ is absolutely essential.

Of course no one should be killed or seriously injured on the roads.

We need this ambitious vision to concentrate our thinking and our efforts into the future—and I suspect that a less challenging target would yield poorer results.

I am also conscious of the significant and collaborative efforts achieving this ambition involves. The scale of these efforts should not be under-estimated—but they need to be made.

When we talk about large numbers it is easy to lose sight of the individual. The 2.4 million deaths projected by 2030 are 2.4 million separate and avoidable tragedies.

Avoiding them will require sustained political will on the part of governments, and a high financial commitment from their taxpayers.

It will also involve the committed participation of industry including vehicle manufacturers.

It also involves coping with problems that continue to frustrate us despite our best efforts—and Australia is not immune from these frustrations.

It was very welcome, for instance, that in 2014 Australia's road fatality rate fell to five deaths per 100,000 people for the first time since 1925—the lowest rate on record.

This was a significant achievement.

Nevertheless, we are concerned that the rate with which we are achieving fatality reductions has slowed in recent years. Data also suggest that serious injuries may not be declining at all.

This is a spur to further efforts.

Part of this effort demands some mental stretches outside of our normal boxes—including developing smarter approaches to safer roads, and making the most of private expertise in building this safer infrastructure.

Road Safety—A Systems Approach

The ITF and the OECD have of course made major efforts over the past seven years in developing an integrated safe-system approach to road safety.

This reflects among other things the sensible principle that road safety will not be achieved by isolated efforts.

As I said, road safety is not a ‘single issue’ problem—it demands the combined efforts of road users, governments and private road managers, and vehicle manufacturers.

I certainly appreciate the sensible tenet of the safe-system approach—that people are fallible and will inevitably make mistakes on the road.

I would never see this as a reason for not focusing on improving the road behaviour of all road users—but we can look at ways to better design and operate the roads system so that people are guided and informed to act safely, reducing genuine mistakes.

And the safe-system concept is integral to Australia's efforts—we explicitly adopted them under our previous 2001–2010 Road Safety Strategy.

Our efforts to cut road trauma—deaths and injuries—are progressed under the National Road Safety Strategy and its supporting National Road Safety Action Plan for 2015–2017.

Our aim under the Strategy is to reduce the numbers of deaths and serious injuries by at least 30 per cent by 2020.

I acknowledge the new UN SDG of 50% will be a challenge—including for us.

Under Australia's Federal system, the Australian Government, and Australia's States and Territories, cooperatively pursue our various road safety responsibilities under the Strategy and Plan.

There is a risk around the world that federal system could hinder progress in road safety—in our case nine different jurisdictions have responsibilities in the area.

However, it is pleasing to note that our arrangements generally work very well.

In Australia's case, it is an advantage that responsibilities are clearly divided between the Federal and State governments.

Our states are responsible for matters like road safety enforcement, driver licensing and road construction.

The Australian Government's major roles relate to the allocation of agreed road funding, standards for new vehicle safety and national coordination and leadership.

This underlines the importance of common commitment and political will in achieving progress in road safety.

In addition, Australia and New Zealand have a particularly close relationship, and we cooperate in several forums covering the many matters relating to road safety.

It is fair to say that our two countries' have an international outlook on road safety as one our fundamental starting points.

Our international efforts with each other and with other nations reflect the spirit of the safe- system approach.

Australia's International Road Safety Efforts

Developing safer transport infrastructure is an integral part of the Australian Government's approach to expanding international economic and educational opportunities.

We recognise that better roads create very impressive safety benefits—and deliver economic and social goals.

Australia's infrastructure support within our international aid programme has a major focus on roads.

This component totalled $250 million in 2014–15, or around 70 per cent of our infrastructure assistance.

Our assistance encompasses policy and project preparation, and grants and loans to build physical assets, including new roads and bridges.

We also support the all-important task of maintaining existing infrastructure.

Australia's major transport infrastructure programmes are in Indonesia, Papua-New Guinea, Vietnam and the Philippines with smaller programmes elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia supports 20 major road projects across nine provinces in Indonesia, and we support the maintenance of 2,100 km of roads in Papua-New Guinea.

However, we recognise that such assistance can have unintended consequences if road safety is not integrated into its delivery.

Australia therefore ensures that road safety is a feature of all our international road construction aid by incorporating safety considerations in design, construction and reporting processes.

Australia will continue to look for opportunities to improve global road safety, including through ventures with government and private partners.

Road Safety—Australia's Domestic Actions

In financial terms, road trauma in Australia costs around $27 billion each year—an amount equal to 1.8 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product.

To place this in perspective, it equals the lion's share of Australia's defence spending—$31.9 billion in this financial year.

However, significant progress is being made.

National fatalities for 2014 were 19 per cent below the strategy baseline.

This puts us well on track to achieve the target—although we are very focused on issues such as serious injuries and the slower decline in fatality rates in recent years that I mentioned earlier.

Our progress to date reinforces our determination in areas where we must do better.

The Government recently led a major mid-term review of the National Road Safety Strategy, culminating in a new three-year Action Plan endorsed by all nine Transport Ministers.

The Action Plan sets several priorities to focus Australia's efforts on long-term improvements to road safety—especially strategic investment in infrastructure and vehicle safety, and capacity building work.

The Plan recognises the need to target road infrastructure investment to the most critical crash problems and to improve the safety of vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists and cyclists.

They remain over-represented in our road toll—and we are focusing significant efforts on them.

Australian Infrastructure Investments

The review of the National Road Safety Strategy also identified road improvement as a key next step in road safety—consistent with the goals of the Decade of Action.

The Australian Government is making a $50 billion investment in infrastructure, which will deliver new road corridors in all our major cities and major improvements in regional road networks.

We believe that the road safety and economic benefits of infrastructure investment are complementary goals.

The Australian Government's investments in Queensland's 1700 km long Bruce highway—including a specific $1.3 billion safety infrastructure package—have dramatically cut fatalities from 53 in 2012 to 17 in 2014.

I was recently pleased to present a major road safety award to the Queensland Government for work on the Bruce Highway—using innovative treatments to widen the centre line for one third of the length of the highway.

We have made a similar 10 year commitment to improving the safety of Tasmania's major Midland Highway corridor, involving some 24 projects.

Improved Vehicle Technology

Along with safer roads, we clearly need safer vehicles.

Several new vehicle technologies, such as autonomous emergency braking systems, are on the verge of wider introduction—with very promising potential for improving global road safety.

And in this context Australian R&D can make an enormous difference in improving vehicle safety outcomes.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Programme offers and publicises independent testing on the level of occupant and pedestrian protection provided by different vehicle models in the most common kinds of crashes.

Crucially, this allows consumers to make informed decisions about vehicle safety outcomes. Promoting these life-saving vehicle technologies is a key role for governments around the world.

Harmonisation of Australian and UN Vehicle Standards

We recognise that our national and international efforts need to be closely integrated, and Australia is accelerating the harmonisation of Australian Design Rules with international standards.

Australia has recently led the development, through the United Nations, of an international standard to improve occupant side impact protection in light vehicles.

The performance requirements of this new standard will require effective vehicle safety measures such as advanced side airbag and sensor systems, which will provide significant road safety benefits globally.

I encourage other countries to consider adopting this standard.

The Australian Government will continue its efforts to make a strong contribution to improving vehicle standards internationally.


I am pleased to have been able to give a flavour of Australia's national and international road safety efforts this afternoon.

I wish to again emphasise my support for the ‘Vision Zero’ concept. Notwithstanding the very real challenges it involves, Australia will play a very active role in helping achieve it.

Thank you very much.